Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The wit and wisdom of President Chirac - No 1

Somebody should send President Bush The Complete Yes, Prime Minister – the video tapes and the book. In these he would find much instructive material, for example, Jim Hacker’s comments about the worrying anti-Americanism that is creeping through official circles. He would also find some hints on how to circumvent the plots laid by Foreign Office minions. (Perhaps, Mr Blair would benefit from reading Hacker's diaries, too.)

In particular, President Bush would be interested in the episode in which Hacker is abjured by Sir Humphrey and Bernard not to reveal something to the French. "But I thought the French were our trusted allies," – says Hacker innocently. "More our mistrusted allies, Prime Minister," – comes Sir Humphrey’s suave and accurate response.

President Bush may well feel the same way after this week’s NATO Summit in Istanbul, though he may well question the word “allies”. Having preached the need for a multilateral approach on Iraq to all who would listen and many who would not, President Chirac has now grandly announced that, while individual NATO members can, if they wish, help the new Iraqi Government by training its forces, the Alliance itself could not possibly do so.

French forces are not really integrated into the NATO military structure and even politically there have been occasions on which the Alliance had to act without France and its approval. That would not matter if there were not the worrying development of the so-called European security policy, whose aim is to undermine the western alliance without, it seems, putting anything in its place.

President Chirac has also found time to snarl at President Bush. He did not like Bush’s commendation of Turkey as a trusted ally and his call for the EU to give that country a firm date on admission.

He not only went too far but he has gone into a domain that is not his own.

He has nothing to say on this subject. It is as if I were to tell the United States how it should conduct its relations with Mexico.
Hang on a minute. The United States and Mexico are sovereign powers and may, therefore, dislike others butting into their diplomatic exchanges. But the EU is not, we have been told, merely an alliance of like-minded states and governments and peoples and … well … whatever. Or is it a state, after all? Perhaps, someone should tell Britain in Europe. They do not seem to know that.

Then again, President Chirac has not exactly been backward about coming forward with advice to all and sundry, particularly the “crude and unsophisticated” Americans, who have not risen to his level of being able to deal with every nasty dictator.

We have been here before, specifically with President Chirac. Who can forget him describing Tony Blair as “very rude” when the latter dared to disagree with him? And who will ever expunge the memory of Chirac trying to emulate de Gaulle and grandly declaring that the East European countries “missed a good chance to keep quiet”? Any problems France may have with the new members may be put down to that ridiculous comment.

In a larger sense, too, we have been here before. In 1946 when the United States had to step in to prevent a Communist take-over in Greece and a possible civil war in Turkey; later on when despite the grandiloquent gestures it was American presence that kept Western Europe safe and peaceful.

We were here in 1991 when Jacques Poos, then Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, holder of the EU Presidency, announced gleefully that America can just keep out of Europe’s backyard. "If there is any problem that Europe can solve it is Yugoslavia." – he proclaimed.

We know the result of that. Another half a decade of war, many thousands slain, whole villages and towns destroyed and then, yes, the despised and derided Americans with NATO support moved in and imposed a kind of solution.

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